Internet Accessibility for People With Low Vision or Blindness

26 sources cited
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Vision Impairment and the Internet

The internet has an infinite amount of resources. Email was introduced in the 1960s, file-sharing became available in the 1970s, and the World Wide Web revolutionized communication in 1989.22

While internet access is limited in many parts of the world, more than half of the world population (about 57 percent) is connected.9 And, only about 7 percent of Americans don’t use the internet.19

Some people don’t use the internet for specific reasons, including vision impairment. People with vision issues struggle to see well on computer and phone screens. This often prevents them from using the internet at all.

The American Foundation for the Blind defines those with vision loss as “individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who reported that they are blind or unable to see at all.”2

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to access the internet and its resources, even if you struggle with vision problems.

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10 Tips for Navigating the Internet with Vision Issues

Here are 10 online accessibility tips to help the blind and visually impaired navigate the internet:

1. Enlarge the text on your screen

Make the text bigger on your screen. You can do this on both Apple and Microsoft devices.

To change the text size, open the settings on your computer or smartphone. You can change the font size in everything from news articles to text messages. You can even choose which apps you want to use this feature on.

For example, on Apple devices, Larger Text allows you to adjust the size with a slider. You can also switch on Bold Text.1

On Windows, go to your settings page and select the accessibility settings. Then choose Text Size. You can also choose display size to scale images and apps.17

2. Remove ads from your browsers

For some people, images and ads can be distracting. Many smart devices allow you to remove these from your view.

In the Safari app on Apple devices, use the Reader feature to hide ads, navigation menus, and more. You can also use Reader to choose a font size and style, as well as a background color (black, white, gray, or sepia).6,7

On Google Chrome, you can also block certain ads and remove unwanted pop-ups and malware. Similarly, you have the option to stop notifications from specific websites.

Apple has a feature called Reduce Motion. This decreases movement of the elements on your screen to simplify web browsing.1

You can also restrict ads and block malware on Microsoft devices.21

3. Change your screen’s color filters

Some visually impaired people struggle with color blindness. If you have difficulty seeing certain colors, you may be able to change the colors on your screen.

Check your system preferences to see whether or not your device has this feature.

4. Change your screen’s contrast settings

If you’re a screen reader with a visual impairment, contrast adjustments can make a difference. You may be able to change the contrast on your computer screen or smartphone screen in your settings.

With Apple, you can put your device in Dark Mode. This darkens the elements on your screen to make reading in low light easier.1

5. Zoom in

Screen magnification is a crucial feature for many people with low or limited vision.

Both Apple and Microsoft products have magnifying features to zoom in on a web page, image, email, or anything else you’re viewing.

Apple phones allow you to create keyboard shortcuts to zoom in on screens. You can also turn on Follow Focus or Smart Typing to zoom as you read and write.1, 26 Hover Text and Touch Bar Zoom are available on laptops and desktops, too.1, 8

Android has an Accessibility feature that can be found in the settings. There, you’ll find Magnification. Once it’s switched on, you can choose your zoom settings.15

6. Enable narrator capabilities

Both blind and visually impaired users can enable a narrator on both Amazon and Microsoft devices. For Apple users, this feature is called Speak Screen. It reads the content on your screen aloud. 

Speak Selection lets you select just one piece of text to be read. You can change the pace at which it’s read in 70 voices and over 35 languages.1 The Typing Feedback setting reads back every letter that you type.

The VoiceOver feature describes text, people, objects, and graphs to you in detail. VoiceOver can also share descriptions of what’s on your device’s screen in braille.1

To enable the refreshable braille display, you will need to connect your Apple device via Bluetooth or enter braille on your touchscreen with the Braille Screen Input.

On Microsoft’s Windows 11, it’s called Narrator. The app reads the screen for you. You can also use Narrator with a braille display.16

On an Android, you can switch on TalkBack for the same feature.5

7. Use talk-to-text dictation

Talk-to-text features allow you to speak into your device’s microphone instead of typing. If you are sending a text message or writing an email, all you have to do is say what you want to write aloud.

With Apple products, you can speak words and punctuation as you would write them. Just tap the microphone button and speak. This feature works in 30 languages.1

Windows’ speech recognition technology dictates text in documents and email. It increases website accessibility, performs keyboard shortcuts for you, and operates your mouse.

8. Use a separate keyboard

You can purchase a separate keyboard that has enlarged or high-contrast keys for easier viewing. Braille keyboards are also available for blind users.

9. Learn keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts make typing easier and accommodate blind users.

Here are some popular shortcuts on a Mac:14

  • Command-C: Copy the selected item
  • Command-V: Paste the selected item
  • Command-Z: Undo the previous command
  • Shift-Command-Z: Redo the previous command, reversing the undo command
  • Command-A: Select all items
  • Command-F: Find items in a document

Here are some popular shortcuts on a PC:18

  • Ctrl + C: Copy
  • Ctrl + V: Paste
  • Ctrl + X: Cut
  • F11 or Windows Logo Key + Up Arrow: Maximize your window
  • Windows logo key + Tab: Open task view 
  • Windows logo key + D Switch: Hide your desktop 
  • Alt + Tab: Switch between open apps
  • Windows Logo Key + X:  Open the quick link menu 
  • Windows Logo Key + L: Lock your PC

10. Download extensions to change the lighting on your screen

There are various accessibility extensions for visually impaired users and screen readers who want to protect their eyes. These extensions adjust screen lighting. Changing the lighting depending on the time of day can put less strain on the eyes. 

Mozilla and f.lux are two popular options.

Other Ways to Protect Your Eyes

There are also other ways you can protect your eyes while reading through a screen. Protecting eyes from straining starts with taking breaks while using a phone or computer.

Try the "20-20-20" rule. Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to an object that’s at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.23

Blue light glasses can also protect your eyes from harmful light rays that can cause vision problems and other health conditions.23

Speak to your eye doctor about vision-correction options, such as eyeglasses, contact lenses, or in severe cases, eye surgery.

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26 Cited Research Articles
  1. Accessibility - Vision.” Apple.
  2. American Foundation for the Blind.” The American Foundation for the Blind.
  3. Blindness Statistics.” National Federation of the Blind.
  4. Fast Facts of Common Eye Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 June 2020.
  5. Get Started on Android with Talkback - Android Accessibility Help.” Google, Google.
  6. Hide Ads and Distractions in Safari on IPhone.” Apple Support.
  7. Hide Ads When Reading Articles in Safari on Mac.” Apple Support.
  8. How to Zoom in or out on Mac.” Apple Support, 31 Jan. 2022.
  9. Individuals Using the Internet (% of Population).” Data.
  10. Internet Basics: What Is the Internet?GCFGlobal.org.
  11. Internet.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
  12. Johnson, Joseph. “Search Engine Market Share Worldwide.” Statista, 1 Mar. 2022.
  13. Kim Krause Berg July 22, 2020 14 min read VIP CONTRIBUTOR Kim Krause Berg. “A Beginner's Guide to ADA Website Accessibility Compliance.” Search Engine Journal, 22 July 2020. 
  14. Mac Keyboard Shortcuts.” Apple Support, 11 Jan. 2021.
  15. Magnification - Android Accessibility Help.” Google, Google.
  16. Microsoft Narrator.” Microsoft Support.
  17. Microsoft Windows.” Microsoft Support.
  18. Microsoft Windows Keyboard Shortcuts.” Microsoft Support.
  19. Perrin, Andrew, and Sara Atske. “7% Of Americans Don't Use the Internet. Who Are They?Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 3 Apr. 2021.
  20. Prater, Meg. “25 Google Search Statistics to Bookmark ASAP.”HubSpot Blog, 9 June 2021.
  21. Remove Unwanted Ads, Pop-Ups & Malware - Android.” Google Chrome Help, Google.
  22. Roser, Max, et al. “Internet.” Our World in Data, 14 July 2015.
  23. Should You Be Worried about Blue Light?American Academy of Ophthalmology, 10 Mar. 2021.
  24. Survey of Users with Low Vision #2 Results.” WebAIM.
  25. Vision Impairment and Blindness.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization.
  26. Zoom in on the Iphone Screen.” Apple Support.
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